Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why You Need an Epic Hallway Maze at Your School.

Every quarter, I put a new maze down out in the hallway outside my classroom. It's just blue painter's tape on linoleum floor, but to students, it's the greatest thing, ever.

My classroom is in the basement, across and around the corner from a couple other elective/specials (whatever your building calls us) classrooms. So a whole bunch of students from all three grade levels pass by in the course of a day. The first time I did this, I had an unexpected but hilarious result: students would walk up to the maze, glance down, and then proceed to walk through the maze pathway to get to the other side as they were traveling to their next class. Like, during passing periods.

The art teacher and I entertained ourselves by watching this phenomenon happen this first week, even joking with students that if they did not follow the maze, they would be reported to administration for "non-maze compliance." This usually resulted in giggles, eye-rolls (it is middle school), or a quick back-track to walk through the maze correctly a second time.

So, advantage #1: Hilarious social experiment.

I didn't put the maze down for the reason listed above, though. I taped down a maze for the purpose of using our Sphero robots. Students use the Tickle app on iPad minis to write a drag-and-drop block coded program to (hopefully) send the Sphero through the entire maze. It's not nearly as easy as you would think! Few, if any, students are actually able to accomplish this task each term. But everyone makes an attempt.

Therefore, advantage #2: Awesome curricular challenge using Spheros:

Another unexpected thing happened when I put down the hallway maze the first time. Other teachers became curious; they actually asked me about what I was doing in class. Students not enrolled in my class would stop and ask about it. My administrators came down to see it. In a random stroke of good luck, it was open house night not too long after I put down the maze. Therefore, parents even stopped and asked about it.

Advantage #3: Curiosity! Opportunity to talk about your class to others! Free advertising!

I made up the maze on my own the first time it occurred. But then I thought, "Hey, why am I doing all of this work, when students will take way more ownership over something that they do themselves?" So for round two, I had a student stop by after school and make the maze himself. He designed it and (with a little help from me) taped it down. All I had to do was give the parameters: ten squares long by five squares wide was the area he had to work with. It was pretty fun.

This quarter, I gave all of my students a chance to design a maze for the hallway: I created a simple grid on a half sheet of paper, and had each student draw and submit a design. I chose one that I thought would functionally work out best (after having done this a few times), and surprised the students the following day with the "winning" design, in actual maze format on the hallway floor. Pretty sweet prize, if you ask me.

Advantage #4: Student ownership and buy-in. Motivation.

After using this maze concept a few times with 8th grade, I realized that I could do so much more with this! My 6th graders have Dot and Dash robots, and the maze would be the perfect challenge for Dash! Similar to programming the Sphero to travel through the maze, students could write a program for Dash using the Blockly app and have him travel the path, too. I love when I can do work and get some extra bang for my buck!

Advantage #5: Bonus curricular content with Dash robots!

My math teacher friend crocheted these cute little winter hats for our Dash robots. :)

Hopefully I have convinced you that you need your own epic hallway maze. I can tell you from experience that blue painter's tape will NOT mark the linoleum floor, no matter what your custodian may try to tell you. Don't use masking tape though - that will!

Even a carpeted floor would be just fine for making a maze. If you have space in your actual classroom, go ahead and do that. But the hallway is more advantageous, if you ask me. I love the curiosity and excitement it builds when people see it. When I was an art teacher, advocating for your program was one of the philosophies that was drilled into my brain as an undergrad. So, anytime I can "advertise" what's going on in my classroom, I consider that a very good thing.

- Mrs L.